Stars showing improvement in faceoffs

The Dallas Stars put a lot of emphasis on faceoffs heading into last season, but they finished 26th in the league by winning 48.1 percent of their faceoffs. Draws got attention in training camp again this season, and early on it’s paying dividends. Heading into Wednesday night’s game against Pittsburgh the Stars are winning 51.1 percent of their faceoffs, which has them ranked 11th in the league.

“We’ve been better and we should be better,” said Stars coach Marc Crawford. “Two guys that have been hard on faceoffs and have helped us are [Steve] Ott and [Adam] Burish. They win through tenacity, going out and digging in. On the other side there is the experience of [Mike] Ribeiro and [Brad] Richards. We should be a pretty good group. Tommy Wandell will benefit from having all those guys compete with him.”

Crawford credits assistant coach Stu Barnes for taking a lot of the initiative on the faceoff front. Barnes credits the players.

“I think the guys have really dug in on them,” said Barnes. “We’ve talked a little bit about them in prep, but the guys themselves have really dug in and taken pride in it. Any time we have worked on it in practice they’ve battled hard.”

Center Mike Ribeiro’s faceoff percentage is up to 54.3 percent this season after being around the 45 to 46 percent level the past few seasons. Ribeiro said he’s been a chronically slow starter in the faceoff department and has made an effort to try to get off to strong start this season. He said the team’s centers have all stepped it up, especially when they work on draws in practice.

“This year’s there’s a little bit more challenge to it,” Ribeiro said of the practice sessions. “It’s not like you just go there and do it. There’s more competition to it, who is winning the faceoff and it’s two out of three. Guys are digging more into it and want to win that tournament we make. It’s just good for everyone.”

Ott’s competitive nature is advantage when it comes to faceoffs. He was the Stars’ best faceoff guy last season at 56.8 percent last season and was ranked 4th in the league at 63.1 percent heading into Tuesday night’s games.

“I hate losing in a lot of aspects and faceoffs just happen to be one of them,” said Ott, who added that his teammates get credit for some of those wins.

“A lot of times you tie a lot of faceoffs and the way you get a win is by your winger or defenseman out battling the other guy for the puck,” he said.

Burish doesn’t take a lot of faceoffs, but his contributions shouldn’t be overlooked. He gives the team a much needed element on a team loaded with left-handed centers.

“Adam Burish has been a good wrinkle for us because he’s a right-handed guy that can take faceoffs,” said Barnes. “He’s been great at both ends of the ice and he’s been really good on the penalty kill.”

Burish has won 20 of his 28 faceoffs, including 10 of 14 shorthanded.

Ott said faceoffs, which he calls a game within a game, are an important part of the game and that’s why he and his teammates continue to work on improving at them.

“On the penalty kill you can kill 30 seconds if you win the draw and it goes all the way down the ice. On the power play you can get some early momentum with a faceoff win,” Ott said. “All over the ice, the more time you have the puck the better off you are, especially your line if you continue to win draws.”